IN & OUT POLK STREET

My walk always starts on this side of Polk Street on a sunny day.

My walk always starts on this side
of Polk Street on a sunny day.

Further down Polk street is a walk past eye-catching establishments.

Further down Polk street is a walk past eye-catching establishments.

One street seemed the same as the other looking at the perfectly arranged streets of San Francisco. But then that’s where most travellers go wrong. They may seem the same given the, for instance, uniformed street sign designs and carefully measured sidewalks but there’s more than meets the eye. Polk Street, running parallel to Van Ness Avenue, is an eclectic mix of restaurants, boutiques, and coffee places. Its eclecticism lends enough colours to the long street but without jarring the senses.

The gym, occupying the old Alhambra movie theatre, is already buzzing, its clients suited in smart work out togs ready to hit the treadmill or the punching bag. A few doors down is Russian Hill Bookstore that buys and sells used books, fine note cards alongside newly published books. My purchases included Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse and Woman in the Dark, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Warlord of Mars, and anthologies on Hammett, Celtic and Polynesian myths, and horror writer HP Lovecraft. The hours went by as I went from one aisle to another.

My loot from Russian Hill Bookstore.

My loot from Russian Hill Bookstore.

Second hand or brand new, Russian Hill Bookstore will have it for you including stationery and other bric-a-brac.

Second hand or brand new, Russian Hill Bookstore will have it for you including stationery and other bric-a-brac.

Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee and Tea are already teeming with early bird coffee-drinkers, dog-walkers,   and whatnot on a glorious sunny day. Their pet dogs laze on the clean sidewalk oblivious of the passers-by, but completely basking in the sun. When Starbucks becomes a little too crowded for comfort – hearing the conversation of the person at the opposite table is a sign to leave – Peet’s Coffee and Tea is a welcome watering hole. Inside or outside, its ambience invites you to savour your coffee and pastry in leisure, as classical music plays overhead. Over in one corner, a man concentrates finishing the birthday note he’s writing while another man quietly peruses the paper at the long bar. A table a little beyond the display counter has two women exchanging stories within my earshot as I look surreptitiously beyond the glass at a young Asian seated alone. He bobs to the beat only he can hear as he sketched people and buildings with a blue pen on his notebook in between sips of, possibly, coffee. The waves of coffee-drinkers change as gently as the foaming of the sea at shore. No strident din is heard from the baristas, only chirpy greetings and light banter.

The earthy colour scheme, I think, lends Peet's a calming aura.

The earthy colour scheme, I think, lends Peet’s a calming
aura.

Peet's calls it Freddo or ice blended chocolate drink with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Yum!

Peet’s calls it Freddo or ice blended chocolate drink with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Yum!

It's a good start to a morning looking out into the street from Peet's while enjoying breakfast.

It’s a good start to a morning looking out
into the street from Peet’s while enjoying breakfast.

A walk to next door is an exercise on self-control. Everything in the store is on sale – from baubles, accessories made in Indonesia, books to kitchenware. On Half is close now but they’re opening in August or earlier, depending if they’re ready or not. The whole month of June was a clearance sale. I grabbed some presents for my high school gal-pals’ two sons – am sure young boys are into dinosaurs and pirates – and other little presents for friends.

Radio Shack is a few steps away and I’m again greeted by Ryan, a young Caucasian, who doesn’t remember that he set up my Kyocera mobile a few days ago.  This time he helps in finding a phone casing – a souvenir for my dad and friend – but is stumped at what an HTC One S phone looks like. One memory of Radio Shack goes back 20+ years and is tied to a brown push-button phone we bought for our apartment in Escondido Village. We’re still using it in our place in Manila. The other memory is that of a good friend, Ryan Hoffman, who used to work there but I’ve since lost touch with.

Bubble tea had been on my mind but when I arrived at Quickly, I quickly walked away. It looked run down although there were a few customers inside despite the unwelcoming vibe of the place. Chatime in Bekasi has a brighter and friendly feel to it. Moving along, a queue snakes out of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant I couldn’t quite make out from a distance. On closer look, it’s a seafood place; plates and trays of fresh crab, shrimps etc line the display window, which, doubles up as a “viewing deck” into an open kitchen. The scenario: a crew hard at work of filling a baguette with crab or shrimp and an 18-seat counter near that door that is fully occupied. Swan Oyster Depot is an institution among restaurateurs; it opened in 1912 and is a favourite among residents and tourists who favour their seafood meal served with panache and charm.  I have yet to beat the line that never ends. I thought I was lucky one time because there was no queue. I was mistaken – the restaurant was close for the July 4 celebrations!

Pearl milk tea with coffee jelly from Quickly is a popular Asian drink in San Francisco. Other stores call it boba tea.

Pearl milk tea with coffee jelly from Quickly is a popular Asian drink in San Francisco. Other stores call it boba tea.

Literally next to it is Nara Sushi that’s sees a steady stream of diners that don’t need to wait long to get a table. I was greeted by a bubbly young waitress who quickly led me to a table and, later I observed, who doesn’t do a shoddy job of literally cleaning tables. Their lunch specials were enticing; at US$7.95 you can mix and match dishes. I chose the chicken teriyaki bento paired with tempura plus a mug of green tea that was refillable. The teriyaki strips were generous in portion and flavourful enough while the crunchy tempura wasn’t oily.

Value-for-money lunch at Nara Sushi means good bento box meal of,  for example, chicken teriyaki with tempura.

Value-for-money lunch at Nara Sushi means good bento box meal of, for example, chicken teriyaki with tempura.

Quiet and relaxed is the ambience at Nara Sushi.

Quiet and relaxed is the ambience at Nara Sushi.

By the window or at the sushi counter - it's your choice where to sit.

By the window or at the sushi counter – it’s your choice where to sit.

Across Quickly is a Thai place I’ve grown to like. Called Thai Spice, the servings are huge and, most importantly, tasty. In all the times I’ve been to the restaurant, I’ve managed to always get the table at the window to the right of the entrance. The natural light streaming in makes it a wonderful spot to dine, read and people watch. One time I nearly spat out my fresh spring roll when I my gaze fell on someone walking a dog – the big blond in a micro mini, heels and tight top was sporting a moustache. Being a creature of habit especially when it comes to eating, Fresh Spring roll was always part of lunch; I alternated between seafood and vegetarian. The restaurant’s peanut sauce is just divine; you have to try one to understand how it enhances the flavours dancing on your palate. Naturally, I always ordered Pad Thai, the plate teeming with shrimp, tofu, ground peanuts, eggs, bean sprout and green onions. Feeling adventurous one day, I tried one of their daily lunch specials of minced chicken with basil. It was a wonderful decision. The portions are generous that lunch becomes dinner most of the time.

Welcome to Thai Spice! San Francisco Chronicle put it in its Top Five Thai Restaurants list.

Welcome to Thai Spice! San Francisco Chronicle put it in its Top Five Thai Restaurants list.

My favourite spot for lunch at Thai Spice.

My favourite spot for lunch at Thai Spice. Lunch today is Pad Thai (foreground) and fresh spring roll.

A choice item made by Executive Chef Wanna Wirat - Crispy Calamari with sweet and sour sauce.

A choice item made by Executive Chef Wanna Wirat – Crispy
Calamari with sweet and sour sauce.

It's fresh, crunchy and packs a flavour when dipped in the peanut sauce.

It’s fresh, crunchy and packs a flavour when dipped in the peanut sauce.

The minced chicken with basil and spring roll combo for lunch is a good choice when you're absolutely famished.

The minced chicken with basil and spring roll combo for lunch is a good choice when you’re absolutely famished.

Walgreen’s is strategically placed on Polk Street. Where I begin my walk, at the corner of Union Street (it lends to a steeper climb unlike Green Street), it emerges after a couple of stores, and as you go further down until you reach the junction of California Avenue and Polk Street, its twin is waiting for you.  From nail polish to San Francisco souvenirs, you’re covered. I traipsed in and out of the store for emery boards, bronzed keychain, mini 2014 San Francisco calendar, cold medicine and Revlon lipstick.

For food stuff, I stumbled upon Big Apple Super Discount, which is several stores before Walgreen’s. I picked up a pack of red velvet cupcakes and boxes of genmaicha tea (these weren’t just available anywhere). The staff generally is cordial but the cashier seemed to have always got up from the wrong side of the bed.

Polk Street’s charm lies in the array of boutiques, stores and eating places that brim with panache, creativity and quality. It also exudes comfortableness dovetailed with a cloud of security hovering over you with every step you make. Being not good with directions or reading street maps, I go by landmarks and Polk Street is my landmark going to and fro from my temporary home on Van Ness. I don’t feel lost when I see the sign read Polk Street. Home is always a few steps away from Starbucks, followed by a left turn, a walk downhill and a right turn.  And everything is always a stone’s throw away from Van Ness to Polk.

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